North and West African Pastoralism/Baggara

George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.

Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) the Baggara mind-mapping diagram

Part Eleven
North and West African Pastoralism
— 54 —

The Bedouin Arabs of the Hilalian invasion, who poured across the Sinai Peninsula into Egypt after A.D. 1045, encountered a block in northern Nubia, where the Christian kingdom of Dongola was strong enough to prevent their passage up the Nile, thus diverting the flood westward into North Africa. Even when Dongola fell in the fourteenth century, a second Christian kingdom, that of Alwa to the south, manned the dike for another two centuries. After the fall of Alwa in 1504, however, the Arabs surged unchecked up the Nile and thence westward into rhe central Sudan, where their advance guard penetrated as far as Lake Chad. In these regions the people they displaced were not Caucasoid Berbers, as in North Africa, but Negroes, the major victims being the ubians, the Prenilotes, and the Central Sudanic tribes. The invaders often intermarried extensively with the indigenous populations, as well as with slaves obtained farther south, with the result that many tribes have received a heavy infusion of egroid blood. In addition, they exhibit somewhat less noticeable evidences of cultural borrowing.
The Arabs of Nubia and the eastern Sudan may be designated collectively as the Baggara, although this name is often reserved for those groups whose animal husbandry revolves primarily around cattle. They have a total population of around 5 million and can be classified into the following major tribal groupings.

  1. Batahin, with the Fadnia. They are camel nomads who occupy the “Island of Meroe” between the White Nile and Atbara Rivers and reveal only slight Negroid admixture.
  2. Bederia (Bedayria), with the Dubab, Ghodiat, Hamayd (Aulad Hamayd), Hawazma, Teraytia, Tomam, Tumbab, and other seminomadic tribes in Kordofan north of the Nuba, with whom some of the Bederia are strongly mixed.
  3. Dekakire. A detached tribe in Bagirmi, much mixed with the indigenous Negroes.
  4. Fertit, including the Mandala (Bandala) and other Arabic-speaking tribes of escaped Negro slaves in the Dar Fertit region. They are sedentary tillers.
  5. Fezara, with the Bnaa, Gerar (Beni Gerar), Hamid, Kawahla, Maakla, Maalja, Shenabla, and Zayadia tribes of northern Kordofan. They are largely cattle and sheep nomads.
  6. Gaaliin (Jaalyyin), with the Gamuia, Gemaab, Gimiab, Manasir, Mesallania, Mirafab, Rubatab, and other tribes along the Nile River in Nubia. They are largely sedentary and reveal a strong Nubian component.
  7. Gimma. A seminomadic tribe along the White Nile.
  8. Habbania, with the kindred Helba (Beni Heba), Rizeigat (Rizaykat), Taaisha, and Taelba of southern Darfur. They are primarily pastoral and exhibit considerable egroid admixture.
  9. Hamar. A seminomadic tribe of Dar Hamar in Kordofan.
  10. Hasania (Hassanyah), with the Husseinat (Husaynat). A seminomadic tribe on the White Nile above Khartoum.
  11. Hemat (Heimad), with the Kirdi, Salamat, and other tribes in southern Wadai. They are seminomadic and reveal substantial Negroid admixture.
  12. Kababish (Kubbabish), with the Hawawir and Kerriat. They are camel nomads with a comparatively slight Negroid admixture.
  13. Kerarish. An Arabized Nubian tribe of camel nomads in the Dongola region.
  14. Mahamid, with the Atayfat, Eraykat, Mahria, Nawaiba (Nuwaiba), and other tribes in northern Wadai. They are camel nomads with a moderate degree of Negroid admixture.
  15. Messiria, with the kindred Humr (Homr) of the Dar el Homr region of Kordofan. They are cattle nomads with considerable Negroid admixture.
  16. Rufaa (Abu Rof), with the Abdullab, Ahamda, Amarna, Awamra, Gubayna, Hamran, Kawasma, Kenana, Khawalda, Lahawiin, and other tribes of the Blue Nile region. They are seminomadic herders of sheep and goats.
  17. Selim (Beni Selim). They are cattle nomads along the White Nile, with a strong Negroid admixture.
  18. Shaikia (Cheykye, Shegya). They are camel nomads ruling over Nubian serfs along the Nile.
  19. Shukria, with the Dubania (Dubaina) and Dubasiin tribes on the Atbara tributary of the Nile. They are camel nomads.
  20. Shuwa (Choua, Shiwa, Shoa), with the Assale (Lesiye), Dagana (Degena), Khozzam (Chozzam, Thuzam), and other tribes of Bornu and western Bagirmi. They are nomadic or seminomadic cattle herders and number about 100,000.
  21. Tungur (Toundjour, Tunzer), inhabiting Darfur, Kanem, and Wadai. They are sedentary remnants, with a strong Negroid admixture, of the earliest Arabized immigrants into the cent ral Sudan, probably refugees from Dongola.

Among the Baggara tribes, only the Batahin, Fezara, Hamar, Kababish, Kerarish, Mahamid, Shaikia, and Shukria have been able to cling substantially to the traditional camel nomadism preferred by the Bedouin. The majority have shifted to cattle as their chief animals and have come to depend to a considerable extent upon agriculture, adopting the cultivation of sorghum, millet, and other Sudanic crops from the indigenous Negroes. The Fertit, Gaaliin, and Tungur, indeed, are almost completely sedentarr. In contrast to the Arabs of North Africa and the Sahara, men rather than women do most of the milking.
Social organization deviates in only minor respects from the norms prevailing among other African Arabs. Polgyny, however, shows a very much higher incidence. Nubian influence, moreover, is often revealed in an initial period of matrilocal residence, notably among the Gaaliin, Hasania, Kababish, and Shaikia. The Mandala tribe of Fertit, who are Arab only in language, have a curious and aberrant social system. These people, the descendants of escaped Negro slaves formerly held by the Habbania, base their organization on the fiction that they are still slaves.
Children are assumed to be the property of the mother’s Arab owner and are thus affiliated with their matrilineal kinsmen, and a son can inherit from his father only if the latter has the same traditional master as the mother.
Although many Baggara tribes cling to the Bedouin tent, the usual cloth cover is occasionally replaced by hides, as among the Messiria, or by mats, as among the Gimma, Mahamid, and Shuluia. Its form also varies, being cylindrical among the Gimma and Selim, hemispherical among the Habbania, and beehive-shaped among some Shuwa. The Sudanese cylindrical hut with conical thatched roof crops up among some Bederia and Shuwa.
The Baggara keep slaves, but in general they reveal a much less complex caste stratification than most African Arabs. They likewise depend for their livelihood more on economic productivity than on predatory exploitation. The latter, to be sure, is by no means absent, especially among the more nomadic tribes of the Nile Valley. An outstanding exception must be noted in the mass slave raiding conducted in the southern Sudan during the nineteenth century. Here the presence of politically unorganized Negro tribes, especially of the Central Sudanic linguistic subfamily, provided an opportunity, and their pagan beliefs an excuse, for slave raids on a scale, and with a degree of ferocity, unparalleled elsewhere in the unhappy history of the continent. Of the Bongo tribe, for example, whose population was estimated at 100,000 by Schweinfurth when he visited their country in the 1870s, only 5,000 survived the Arab depredations. Other tribes, less fortunate, left no survivors.


Bienvenue dans mon monde d'exploration et de découverte ! Je suis Ingrid Allain, une voyageuse passionnée avec une curiosité insatiable pour la riche tapisserie de la culture africaine. Pour moi, l'Afrique n'est pas juste une destination ; c'est une fascination de toute une vie et une source d'inspiration. Des rythmes vibrants des cercles de tambours d'Afrique de l'Ouest à la perlerie complexe des artisans Maasaï, chaque coin de ce continent détient un trésor de traditions à découvrir. À travers mes écrits, je vise à partager la beauté, la diversité et la résilience des cultures africaines avec le monde. E-mail: [email protected] / Linkedin
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